HARPER WOODS, Mich. - A meeting between officials with Harper Woods and activists offered encouraging signs to community advocates pursuing justice in the case of a woman who died in police custody in mid-June.
Members vying for racial equality who demonstrated against alleged wrongdoing after Priscila Slater was found unresponsive in her jail cell on June 10 said they came to a consensus on steps to move forward late Thursday night after discussions with the chief of public safety and the acting city manager.
"It was a very hard conversation, a very intense conversation, however, we think we may have come to some sort of resolution and we think we may be able to address some of those systemic issues relative to historic mistreatment of Black citizens in this city, relative to racism that exists in this city," said activist Teferi Brent.
Brent and others discussed an array of problems with acting City Manager John Szymanski, from problems with jail conditions, hiring practices, and a lack of diversity in the leadership in Harper Woods.
"We need termination of police officers and law enforcement who was complicit in this and more importantly, we need compliance. The family needs justice so by them sitting at the table, this is a big step forward and it's to their benefit," said Negus Vu, the president of the People's Action.
A spotlight of racial tension has shined on Harper Woods since the early onset of protests that descended on cities in the U.S. After Slater was arrested on June 8 and found unresponsive two days later, activists protested against the city, alleging foul play at the hands of law enforcement.
Since then, former Mayor Kenneth Poynter has resigned after making a white supremacist comment during a meeting with other city officials. On Wednesday, the city fired two officers after an internal review found they had manipulated and concealed evidence on Slater's police report.
It's unclear what exactly Deputy Chief John Vorgitch and Patrol Officer Michael Pineau redacted from the report prior to their termination. During an interview Thursday with the Geoffrey Fieger, who is representing Slater's family in the matter, he said information he had received indicated the report had manipulated evidence about the victim's body.
"People don't conceal this type of evidence unless there's liability, unless they've done something wrong," he said. "They don't do this just to do it."
"We know from information that we received that it had something to do with the condition of Priscila Slater's body. At least that's what we were told by tipsters within the system," Fieger added.
A city attorney with Harper Woods rebuked any rumors about what was redacted from the police report, saying it was "wrong for anybody to jump to conclusions or to call for criminal charges."
"...because we don't have official results of the state police, we don't have the autopsy report and we don't have the toxicology report suggesting the cause and manner of death," John Gillooly said.
Following Thursday's meeting, a civil rights activist said it was unfortunate it required incidents like Slater's death for change to happen. But she was still encouraged that could be done.
"We know that these issues have been long-standing and one of the key things is that when good people do nothing, bad things continue to happen. So, unfortunately, it takes wrongdoing to draw attention - there probably would be more information coming out. So it presents an opportunity for Harper Woods," said Thornton.